“Thunder is like a truck
rolling over us in the cloudy
the damp, dark
– Ava M., Age 8, Pizza Poetry 2016
April is National Poetry Month which couldn’t be more appropriate for local non-profit 826 New Orleans. The organization will not only become the eighth member of the prestigious 826 national network and its first Southern chapter but will also hold the opening of its new 7th Ward-based 826 New Orleans Youth Writing Center. Since 2011, the program formerly known as Big Class has been the only youth writing nonprofit in New Orleans dedicated to supporting students’ writing skills and is now poised to significantly expand its impact.
They may be starting a new chapter in their work, but their mission remains the same to cultivate and support voices of young writers ages 6-18 through creative collaborations with schools and communities. The 150 volunteers associated annually with 826 New Orleans have inspired 3,000 students to discover the power and possibilities of the written word through improving literary skills and developing published authors. Over 100 student publications have been produced and range from This is How it All Began – Animal Origin Stories by fourth graders at Green Charter School, to History Between These Folds, personal narratives by 11th graders at Carver High School.
“At Big Class, there is an integrity and openness that is contagious, and this goes hand in hand with a real work ethic around the daunting challenge of writing well,” says Big Class Workshop leader and author Rebecca Snedeker.
Big Class dates back to 2009, when creative and culturally curious Doug Keller moved to New Orleans with Teach for America. He struggled for a way to offer project-based interactive learning in his class of 43 first graders. Inspired by an 826 NYC seminar he attended in 2003, Doug decided a class book project was the perfect fit. After the first publication, book signing and growing interest from other teachers, Doug recognized the project’s potential and began offering the free Big Class programs to schools in 2011 and as an after school program in 2013. Now Executive Director Doug and the Big Class staff will join the 826 national network of youth writing nonprofits giving local students opportunities to connect with over 32,000 students in cities across the United States and fostering civic dialogue on a national scale.
Beginning in April, the transformative work of 826 New Orleans will come alive in the educational space of the 826 New Orleans Writing Center. Their 4,500 square foot home will provide a welcoming community space to offer 1,500 students this year innovative and exciting workshops, field trips, after school programs and a Young Writer’s Council – doubling the capacity of students they serve. They will also continue to offer six-month or two-week book project programs in schools and community writing collections that bring together youth voices from across the city.
The nonprofit operates from the belief that “reading is access, but writing is agency.” Amplifying the youth voice through writing and publishing allows students to be heard and in turn become empowered in all areas of their lives. Big Class student Gabrielle says it best, “As soon as I come through the door I feel like I can do anything.”
A little more …
Enjoy a pizza delivered with a poem written by a young person on the fifth annual “Pizza Poetry Day:” April 27, 2018. A portion of the proceeds benefit 826 New Orleans. Find participating restaurants at BigClass.org